Appropriate farming tools for African women farmers

Crop productionGender equality

Notes to broadcasters

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The economic status of African women farmers strongly influences the type of tools they use and the way they use those tools. Women do not receive very much income from their farming activities, so it is difficult for them to buy agricultural tools and access transport. This situation is further complicated by the social and banking rules that limit women’s access to long-term financial resources and credit. In practice, most women do not own land, and land ownership is the main source of credit worthiness.

Men are increasingly migrating to urban centres because of perceived job opportunities. Conflicts and wars also take men away from their families. In all these circumstances, women and children are left on their own to carry out the family tasks, including most if not all farm work. Money sent back home to women farmers is often not enough for them to purchase new tools and other agricultural inputs in addition to meeting other needs in the family such as school fees and medicine.

A recent study in five African countries – Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe – showed that specific cultural factors also have a direct impact on African women farmers’ choice of tools and the overall conditions of their farm work. It was also discovered that some solutions clash with religious beliefs, taboos and traditional community attitudes.

In this script, a village elder, a blacksmith, a male farmer and a woman farmer meet at a village square to discuss the conditions and cultural factors that have an impact on African women farmers’ choice of farming tools and techniques.


Signature tune to introduce the programme.

Good morning (afternoon, evening). Women farmers produce most of our food. Yet women face many problems finding farm tools that are appropriate for them. Traditionally men are in charge of livestock, and most traction equipment is too heavy for women. In many countries, there is a taboo against women using most animals for farm work. There is no taboo against the use of donkeys, which women may use if they are available. But donkeys are considered inferior, mainly because owning oxen brings more social prestige.

Stay tuned as a village elder, a woman farmer, a male farmer and a blacksmith discuss the kinds of problems women face in accessing appropriate agricultural tools and transport.

Fade up sounds of village market – people talking and bargaining, sounds of animals, sounds of a blacksmith’s shop, etc. Hold for five seconds, then fade under village elder and out.

I speak for the traditions of the village. The hand hoe has been traditionally used for tilling, hoeing and weeding. The heavy blade is rectangular and very efficient for our deep soils, though the handles vary in shape and length. Short-handled hoes are better for women. Women can work faster with short-handled hoes, and long-handled hoes are sometimes not heavy enough for our soils. Women work bent over. Maybe it is better to work bent over double than to be seen standing. Standing is a sign of laziness.

(Somewhat frustrated, but trying to defer to the elder) Thanks, elder. It’s true that the hoe has some advantages and has traditionally been used for cultivation. The short-handled hoe is what we are used to, but it may not always be the only tool or even the best tool for women. In old age, women have health problems because they have worked so hard in the fields bending over and carrying very heavy loads. We need better tools and we need to use animals to help us produce more food. (Continuing with the elder’s understanding) We know the situation here in our village. Tools like the oxen plough can be pulled by animals. But the families who own the animals and plough may charge very high prices that women in the village cannot afford. Can we not find new ways to use animal traction? Can we women come together to use new tools and share animal traction and transport?

We all know that some old farming technologies and tools are not suitable for women. But blacksmiths do not only make and repair farm tools. We can also modify tools to meet women’s needs. I have heard that there are many new designs for less expensive oxen ploughs, carts that can be drawn by cattle and donkeys as well as new hand tools.

I agree that women play an important role in farming, and that they are limited by the kind of tools they use. We need to work with blacksmiths to help design suitable tools for women. These tools must be easily available, they must be cheap, and women must be able to trade goods and services for them. But, if women are going to produce more food, it’s equally important to change society’s attitude towards women. Women are the main producers of wealth in farming. We need training programmes to help women become more active in farming demonstrations. Animal traction can also help increase women farmers’ efficiency and effectiveness.

I agree. I first heard about animal traction thorough a radio programme. At first I thought it was impossible. But it has happened in the Eastern part of the country. I feared that men would not support me. There are taboos against women using animals in farming. I have never seen women using any animals but donkeys, which we use for fetching water and carrying food. Gradually I became convinced and I started using oxen. Today I have many achievements: My land is prepared on time and my planting goes very well. The oxen plough has brought minerals to the top of the soil, and this has increased yields. Animals have saved me time and helped me to concentrate on other activities. I now have a successful retail shop.

(Thoughtfully and slowly) Hmmm… From what I am hearing, there are benefits when women use animals and more appropriate farm tools. It is true also that it is a question of women’s rights… I can agree that women need appropriate tools and techniques to improve their productivity.

Fade up sounds of village market – people talking and bargaining, sounds of animals, sounds of a blacksmith’s shop, etc. Hold for five seconds, then fade under village elder and out.

Dear listener, we have come to the end of the programme. Today we have looked at the role of culture in disempowering women. We have heard that women are the leading producers of wealth and that they can produce more food by using suitable tools. We have also heard about the role of blacksmiths in modifying tools and producing new tools for women. Women farmers need to be helped to take an active role in farming. Tune in next week again, same time, same station. See you then.

Signature tune to end the programme


Contributed by: Anthony Lwanga, Kagadi Kibaale Community Radio, Kagadi, Uganda.
Reviewed by: Helen Hambly Odame, University of Guelph, Canada.

Information sources

  • Paul Starkey and Pascal Kaumbutho, editors, 1999. Meeting the challenges of animal traction.
    For more information on appropriate farm tools and designs for animal traction contact.
  • Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA).
    ATNESA Chairperson,
    Dr Edward Nengomasha, Principal Research Officer
    Matopos Research Station
    P/bag X5137, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
    Tel: +263 838 263 ; Fax: +263 838 289 or 253
  • ATNESA Secretary,
    Dr Pascal G. Kaumbutho,
    Kenya Network for Draught Animal Technology (KENDAT)
    PO Box 2859, City Square, 00200, Nairobi, Kenya.
    Tel:             + 254-20-6766939      ; Fax: + 254-20-6766939
  • Professor Paul Starkey,
    Animal Traction Development,
    64 Northcourt Avenue, Reading RG2 7HQ, UK.
    Tel:             + 44-118-9872152      ; Fax: + 44-118-9314525